Director. Kirsty Patrick Ward
Writers. Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields
It’s almost impossible to think about the popular theatre scene over the past decade and not picture Mischief Theatre Company front and centre. With seemingly boundless ambition they have conquered the West End, Broadway, TV, radio, podcasts and their almost never ceasing UK tours of their numerous shows. Theatregoers may be familiar with the productions that have come before, but Groan Ups is a new flavour from the much celebrated company, being less metatheatrical, more dramatic, and maybe a more sincere form of theatre.
Many may have caught a glimpse of the opening scene of Groan Ups at the Royal Variety Show in 2019 where the core members of the company play five primary school children giving a presentation on what they did at the weekend. Much of the humour comes from the innocent interpretation of the parent’s behaviour and the broad performative style of children.
On tour we meet a new cast who immediately establish themselves as a strong ensemble who appear to have taken the baton and ran with it. While you may not be surprised to hear about the physical comedy and the superbly timed delivery, this play explores unexpected dramatic depths as old truths are uncovered and weighty personal issues are explored. The simplicity of youth so abruptly contrasts to the trials of adulthood as to be almost jarringly bleak by the end.
Our five core characters are rather archetypal; the nerd, the rebel, the geek. There’s something almost sadly predictable about their dynamic. While revelling in the comedy of the play the actors languish in more profound moments, which arrive abruptly and stagnate the performance. Certain topics are discovered and explored so suddenly one can’t be sure how great the impact is intended to be for our characters which can undermine the journey we’re taking. Mischief Theatre have posed some searching questions with this production; ”Do we choose who we become? Is the story of our lives already written? Do we ever really grow up?” There isn’t really time allowed for these larger themes to be contemplated and the drama is slightly downplayed. One particular instance involves a character uncovering a deep betrayal, only to seemingly forgive and forget within minutes.
The company does well to meet the dual demands of comedy and drama, and all make impressive physical journey’s from children to adults. When Jamie Birkett is brought in as Chemise, the Geordie stunner intended as eye candy, she steals the show with impressive comic timing and leaves an indelible mark from this smaller role.
Fly Davis has created a spectacularly well considered and incredibly inventive set. All scenes take place in the same classroom over the course of several years, and the ways in which Davis has conveyed that time shift are remarkable. As young and boisterous six year olds, the cast clamber onto large classroom chairs, stand on tiptoe to reach grown up door handles and props and perspective are skewed to render the company child size. This provides a stark contrast to the suited and booted adults who return to find chairs almost too small to sit on and the ubiquitous hamster cage diminished over time. The play is a love letter to growing up and the details that we retain even from our most formative years. Audiences will delight in the changing face of the classroom over the years, from wooden desks to interactive whiteboards, the authenticity in the set design is joyous to behold.
Expectations will undoubtedly be high for such a renowned company and this new style may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Many laughs are there to be found and an attempt at some tender dramatic storytelling will certainly stoke viewers nostalgic tendencies. A school days jaunt in September may just be the outing for you!
Runs until 11th September 2021